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Christie’s Highlands Council Seeking to Privatize Regional Plan Amendment Process

August 30th, 2017 No comments

Christie proposal would frustrate the next Administration

[Update below]

The NJ Highlands Council just proposed for public review and public comment a process to amend the Highlands Regional Master Plan (RMP) (read the complete proposal here).

The proposed amendment process includes a provision which would allow “anyone” – i.e. private individuals, landowners, lobbyists, the NJ Builders Association, the Farm Bureau, law firms representing developers, et al – to propose amendments to the RMP for review, consideration, and approval by the Highlands Council:

Anyone wishing to suggest additional or different changes to the RMP than those proposed in the draft Recommendation Report will be asked to provide the information outlined below to support such changes to the best of their ability. Changes will not be rejected or discarded due to a lack of information; rather supporting information will be used by Council staff to provide context for any such amendment to the Committee:

This essentially is a form of privatization of the planning process – or outsourcing the drafting on plan amendments.

It would allow private entities with economic interests to propose amendments to gut the RMP and promote development. This would not only privatize the planning process, it would also politicize the planning process and the science upon which regional planning is based.

The basis and justification for proposed amendments would not even have to meet basic legal, scientific, and planning standards:

Changes will not be rejected or discarded due to a lack of information

We already know how the NJ Builders Association and NJ Farm Bureau and radical private property rights zealots would like to see the RMP amended. Recall that DEP settled a lawsuit by the Farm Bureau by pledging to weaken the Septic Density standards.

We already know that Gov. Christie and his loyal appointees on the Highlands Council would like to repeal the Act – something they were unable to get through the Legislature – or gut the RMP to promote economic development and compensate landowners whose development potential and property value were reduced under the Act.

Now, just as the failed Christie administration expires and a new Governor will soon be able to appoint a new Executive Director and Council to protect the Highlands, the Council seeks to institutionalize a private planning process.

The proposal – to allow “anyone” to draft and submit proposed RMP amendments –  would bypass and undermine the professional staff of the Highlands Council.

Under the Highlands Act, only the Highlands Council and local governments are authorized to propose and approve amendments to the RMP.

Proposed amendments must originate and be drafted by professional staff and be based solely on the goals, objectives, policies, and standards set forth in the Highlands Act.

The proposed RMP amendment process would allow private self interested entities to interpret the Act in their own interest and draft proposed amendments and then lobby the Highlands Council for approval of their own proposals.

How about RMP policies regarding the availability and allocation of water written by the private water companies? Oil & gas pipeline and utility ROW policies drafted by the energy companies? Land use, redevelopment and housing policies written by the NJ Builders Assc.? And NJ Audubon will certainly submit amendments to include their “young forest” & “forest stewardship” plans in the RMP.

My understanding was that any amendment to the RMP would have to originate with staff. The Act does not create a process or standards for “anyone” to submit proposed amendments.

The Council’s proposal amounts to the regulatory equivalent of a petition for rule making.

The DEP has regulations regarding the process for petitions for rule making, which are authorized by the NJ Administrative Procedures Act. The legislature did not insert such a procedure in the Highlands Act (to my knowledge). Nor is such a plan amendment process included in the Pinelands Protection Act, which was the model for the Highlands Act. (I know, I was involved in drafting the Highlands Act. Similarly, I have filed petitions for rulemaking).

This would subvert the public interest that public regional planning authorized by the Highlands Act is designed to promote.

It is wrong and illegal and must be stopped.

Period.

[End Note: 2 closing points:

1. Yes, I understand that the Council would maintain control over the final decision on any proposed amendment. (That’s why I described it as “essentially a form of privatization”.)

However, this still would bypass staff, undermine planning and science, and politically put the Council on the defensive in having to analyze and respond to what could be a barrage of proposed hostile amendments. At best, that is a formula for gridlock.

2. I got the heads up on this proposal from an email by the Highlands Coalition. Sadly, they provided no substantive analysis and took no position on the proposal, other than to recommend that public comments ask for a 60 day comment period.

I guess they are too busy organizing golf outings, car rallies, and pub crawls.

All that incompetence and weak spine is just fine with Chris Daggett at Dodge Foundation, who told the Coalition to “cool it” – or did he say “tone it down”? – in criticizing Gov. Christie during his first year in office. ~~~ end

[Update 8/31/17 : I reached out to Eliot Ruga, “Policy Director” at the NJ Highlands Coalition for his assessment.

Eliot views the proposal as allowing “public input”, equates the Farm Bureau, private water companies, and NJ Builders Assc.’s expertise, resources, and influence with his fellow conservationists, and finds the proposal consistent with the Highlands Act. His reply:

No I’m not saying that Council staff recommendations have the same weight as a private entity’s. And by private entity, it could be Princeton Hydro or Juliette Hirsch representing a developer client, or a non-profit such as NJCF or the Farm Bureau. There has to be a mechanism for the public to have input, which is consistent with the Act. See C.13:20-11.

Eliot: 1) fails to distinguish “public input” on draft RMP written by Council staff and actually writing proposed RMP amendments for the Council’s consideration; 2) fails to understand the difference between a planning document drafted by professional staff employed by a government agency versus one written by a developer’s lawyer of lobbyist; 3) fails to understand how dangerous it would be – both technically and politically – to open the door to direct submission of RMP amendments for the COuncil’s consideration that bypass professional staff; and 4) he doesn’t seem to understand how this would effectively outsource RMP planning.

This is after I provided him with 2 very clear illustrations of the huge differences:

Example: public comment on a proposed DEP regulation versus a petition for rulemaking by a regulated entity.

Example: public comment on a DEP draft permit condition versus a lawyer for a permitee writing the permit condition.

Ruga reveals dangerous incompetence and lack of actual policy, planning and regulatory experience. I guess his background in TV sports production didn’t prepare him adequately. (like his fellow Dodge Foundation funded weenie, Patty Cronheim of Rethink Energy NJ, entertainment background is great preparation for pub crawl promotion, but very poor preparation and experience for public policy analysis and advocacy.

Dodge has very low standards for funding “policy analysis” and “advocacy”.

Full disclosure: Dodge denied funding a proposal I submitted, so I surely have “AN AXE TO GRIND”! ~~~ end update]

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Pacific Northwest

August 27th, 2017 No comments
Cape Flattery, most northwestern point on mainland US

Cape Flattery, most northwestern point on mainland US

After fleeing smoke in Olympic National Park from wildfires in British Columbia, we headed west and around the Olympic Peninsula, and down the Washington and Oregon coasts.

Cape Flattery

Cape Flattery

me and Bouy at Cape Flattery

me and Bouy at Cape Flattery

We were in Willamette National Forest along the McKenzie River for the solar eclipse.

McKenzie River

McKenzie River

old growth forest along McKenzie River

old growth forest along McKenzie River

We dodged the eclipse traffic out of Madras Oregon with a great campsite along the Deschutes River:

Deschutes River, Oregon

Deschutes River, Oregon

Central and southwestern Oregon were shrouded in dense smoke from wildfires that still are raging out of control. The smoke and fire risk are threatening northern California.

Here’s some sights:

Washington coast

Washington coast

Astoria Oregon

Astoria Oregon

Oregon coast - Cape Lookout - awesome hike through old growth rainforest

Oregon coast – Lookout Point – awesome hike through old growth rainforest

Oregon coast

Oregon coast

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Slogans “Buy Local” & “Sustainable Birdhouses” Provide Cover For Logging Of Public Lands

August 22nd, 2017 No comments

After you’ve partnered with Trump, it looks like anything goes

“Jersey Grown Wood” masks corruption and logging

[Update below]

I guess when a self-proclaimed “conservation” organization has: 1) formed a “partnership” with Donald Trump; 2) taken money from a Wall Street billionaire to log forests to enhance opportunities for wealthy private hunters; and 3) formed a “Stewardship Council” with major corporate polluters, developers, and pipeline builders; then something apparently benign like a “buy local” sustainable forestry birdhouse program may seem like chump change, and just a short slide down the slippery slope of the Greasy Pole to Gomorrah (a process that Chris Hedges calls “our descent into corporate tyranny.”)

I am referring to NJ’s Audubon’s latest scam, run in cooperation with NJ State Departments of Environmental Protection (“Forest Stewardship”) and Agriculture (“Jersey Grown Wood“).

Here is NJ Audubon’s marketing pitch:

LOCALLY GROWN AND MADE HOUSES AND FEEDERS FOR YOUR LOCAL BIRDS

NJ Audubon is now offering bird houses and bird feeders made with Jersey Grown wood sustainably harvested from New Jersey forests. ….. Our bird houses and feeders are made of Atlantic white cedar sustainably harvested under forest stewardship plans approved by the N.J. Department of Environmental Protection.

What could be so bad about that? Sustainable forrest stewardship? Locally grown and crafted products? Birdhouses!

I’m on the road and I’ve written extensively about all this, so I’ll be brief:

1) NJ Audubon and NJ DEP have come under extreme public criticism for their aggressive, scientifically dubious, and fundamentally dishonest campaign to log publicly owned lands in the NJ Highlands Preservation Area.

As we speak, there is an ongoing major public controversy  on DEP and Audubon proposed logging in Sparta Mountain Wildlife Management Area.

The DEP plan has been legally challenged by Beaver Lake Realty Assc., a nearby group of homeowners and opposed by virtually every NJ environmental group, including Sierra Club, the Highlands Coalition, several independent scientists, and a local group called Friends of Sparta Mountain.

2) The DEP and NJ Audubon attempted to seek legislation to authorize a statewide “forest stewardship” certification program for public lands.

That proposed legislation sparked huge public and environmental group opposition and the bill failed, through more than 1 legislative session.

Gov. Christie even vetoed a version of a stewardship certification bill that did pass both houses of the legislature.

In a brazen example of bureaucratic arrogance and over-reach, DEP and NJ Audubon are now implementing the program – on public lands – that they failed to get legislative approval of.

3) NJ Audubon recently lost certification of their logging program by the national Forest Stewardship Council for failure to meet FSC standards.

Their pals at NJ DEP will now issue the certification that NJ Audubon lost.

4) DEP recently proposed “forest stewardship” regulations.

The joint DEP, Ag and NJ Audubon program is a blatant attempt to deploy slogans and manipulate well meaning people to support a scientifically flawed policy and controversial public lands logging program. The public is not aware of the larger implications of the “forest stewardship” issue on public lands.

Audubon is acting as the PR and marketing arm of both DEP and Department of Agriculture. The relationship is way too close.

The joint DEP, Ag and NJ Audubon program is an end run around the Legislature.

The program has not been authorized by the Legislature and even DEP is just now proposing rules to implement the program.

The DEP and Audubon have undermined the regulatory process.

NJ Audubon and DEP are masking a controversial public lands logging program behind not only slogans, but taking advantage of public support for agriculture by calling logging a form of agriculture.

The program builds institutions, generates funds, and enhances personal, organizational and professional relationships to consolidate a sham “stewardship” program. It serves to subsidize and perpetuate lax regulatory oversight in order to revive and expand a long dead logging industry in NJ.

And the whole thing stinks to high heavens.

But after you’ve partnered with Trump, it looks like anything goes.

[Update: Before I am accused of conflating multiple issues and erroneously claiming that the birdhouses come from Highland logging, yes, I understand that the Audubon birdhouses are made from Atlantic White Cedar from the Pinelands, not the Highlands and Sparta Mt. WMA.

So readers should take a look at what passes for first stewardship and white cedar restoration in the Pines, see:

And yes, I understand the distinctions between DEP’s private versus public lands logging and certification programs and NJ Audubon’s various related efforts. ~~~ end update]

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Olympic Smokeout

August 15th, 2017 No comments

_DSC3948

We visited Olympic National Park last week (on August 9), and were literally smoked out (photo above) due to record wildfires in British Columbia, Canada.

According to the National Park Service, like Glacier National Park, Olympic NP is severely impacted by climate change:

_DSC3950

Those impacts did not mention the smoke issue.

Here is US NOAA article on the BC wildfires that discussed the implications of climate change and wildfire (and the research article NOAA cites does not explicitly discuss all the fuel built up in the forest due to tree mortality caused by pine bark beetle (“flammable biomass”) – which is another impact of climate change):

The future of wildfires in Canada

Canada is the second most forested country on the planet, and thus, it contains a staggering number of trees.  Recent research in the journal Environmental Research Letters and detailed in an article by the Globe and Mail highlights just how difficult fighting wildfires could become thanks to human-caused climate change.

One of the authors of the research, Dr. Mike Flannigan, explains that since climate change will make Canada hotter and drier, the forests will become drier, too, providing more fuel for fires and increasing their intensity. Flannigan mentions that while it is hard to predict, a 10 percent increase in the intensity of a fire could cause a doubling or tripling of the overall area burned.

The research suggests that under a business-as-usual greenhouse gas scenario over the next century, the number of days where conditions are favorable for wildfires to will increase by more than 50% in western Canada, increasing both the fire danger and the cost of fire suppression.  Wildfires already pose a significant risk for parts of Western Canada and human-caused climate change could make things even worse. (emphasis mine)

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Beast Breakdown Fundraiser

August 8th, 2017 No comments
The Beast, at 7,000 feet (Hart's Pass, Northern Cascades)

The Beast, at 7,000 feet (Hart’s Pass, Northern Cascades)

Leaving Port Townsend this morning, we stopped to do the laundry. Getting back into the truck, I noticed a significant leak from below the Beast. Smelled like antifreeze.

Got a referral by a resident to a good local auto repair shop – Gary’s Auto Repair – and discovered that my water pump failed.

Replacing the water pump, hoses, thermostat, and clamps cost over $500! Ouch!

The Beast has served me well – over 10,000 miles through some harsh conditions and over sketchy roads.

My funds are being depleted a lot quicker than I had hoped, and this is a big unexpected hit on the financial picture.

SO – we are having a Beast Repair Fundraiser!

Anyone wishing to support this continuing adventure can make a non-tax deductable contribution to our PayPal account.

Or, shoot me an email and we can arrange something different: bill_wolfe@comcast.net

We thank you! And we’ll keep you posted.

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